John McPhee vs Malcolm Gladwell

“John McPhee is one of the greatest writers this country has ever seen. I have a near-complete set of first editions of his stuff. He is BRILLIANT. And he is not Gladwell, not by a long chalk. One of the things McPhee never does, in extreme contrast to Gladwell, is claim importance. He doesn’t give a damn about importance; he cares about understanding — his own understanding. In his books you never get the sense that he’s saying “you have to get this”; he’s saying “isn’t this amazing?” That’s what makes for great nonfiction: don’t tell us, show us. If you don’t want to read a McPhee book, it’s no skin off his nose. Gladwell strives for importance. He wants to be heard, and to influence. Those are poisonous desires, I think. Your subject has to demand its own attention, in its own right. Everybody wants to understand the world around us, but you can’t proceed from that desire — you have to start with the world, not yourself.”

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